Pushing Too Hard

Picture of Adam Bahret
Adam Bahret

It’s early in the boating season.  It’s a beautiful Saturday and I’m wakeboarding, my wife is driving.  I am getting ready to line up to jump the wake and all of a sudden she cuts the throttle and then guns it again.  I just let go of the rope and wait for her to come around so I can find out if it was the dirty dishes left on the  couch or beard shavings carelessly sprinkled on her face soap.  She said the boat just stuttered without her touching the throttle.  Hmmm  really? As we are talking the boat just stalls. Ughh!, and we are not close to the house.  So the three of use (my buddy was with us) start rowing with the emergency paddle.

He really rubbed it in by offering to swim home and get his boat to tow us.  Seriously? screw you and you college swim career and working boat that was about 1/3rd the cost of mine when they were new. His Searay to my Sport Nautique is like a Camaro to a Ferrari.  That comparison goes all the way to reliability as well apparently. The Ferrari is “in the shop” while the  Camaro is ready to go cruisin. Eventually a neighbor saw us struggling to row a 21ft boat by hanging off the bow and they interrupted their lunch and came out and towed us back.  I think it was also a Searay.

Why am I writing about this crapola experience?  I was living the other end of a story I often participate in, but in a different role. I diagnosed it far enough while soaking wet to know it was the fuel injection not firing. But that wasn’t the root cause. The root cause is a leadership decision made in the mid nineties.

It was not the first time this system got weird on an otherwise amazing well engineered vessel.  The boat is a ’97 but totally mint with very few hours on it.  Buying a low hours, stored indoors, 20 year old Nautique is a nice way to get your hands on a boat that would cost you $100K+ today. But……I hit one snag.  I bought the first year they decided to put fuel injection in these mid engine V8 ski boats. I went for a high end older boat instead of a newer run of the mill boat because I wanted a top quality craft with a cult following.  This ensured awesome tech support by an enthusiastic community on-line.  It also ensured top design and build quality.

So what happened?  The boat had 5 motor options that year.  All monster V8’s based on classic automotive muscle motors.  Mine is based on the classic Chevy 350 which has been a staple motor for just about everything that wants high torque for just about forever. It’s the motor in Corvettes, pro race cars, and every Chevy and GMC truck since actual horses went out of fashion.   So it should be about as reliable as could be.  But I made one horrible horrible mistake.  I purchased the one model they offered that year with Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI).  I love EFI and though this was a good move.  By ’97 the tech had been all worked out in the automotive world and was far superior to carburetors, which had pretty much been dropped across the board.

This was not the case for boats in ’97.  Boats have been happy with carbs for a 100 years and were slower to adopt to tech changes like EFI.  Nautique(Correct Craft) has been making boats since 1925.  My Sport Nautique is one of their staples.  But that year they decided to continue their market dominance by being one of the first to push to integrate EFI into big V8 ski boat motors.  It is painfully apparent that the executives pushed this far to fast for engineering to do the right steps to make it a reliability success.  Being an early adopter of EFI in the ski boat market was a big deal and leadership decided it was going to happen.  I’m sure they had a specific boat show in mind that it was going to debut at… no matter what.  I know all this because any gear head can look at this system and see this EFI is clearly designed for a different application and slammed on this motor.

This configuration is such a unicorn* that it was difficult to even get the wiring schematics from Correct Craft because documentation was scattered.  Every person on the Nautique forums just tells me I’m better off just ripping it out and putting a carb on it.  These are people dedicated to the preservation of these boats exactly as they came out of the factory.

I’m 20 years down the road on this boat so can’t exactly call up customer service and complain. It does make me feel less positive about the brand though.  But how many people had headaches with this system in the first year?  Did Nautique lose any loyal customers?  Any bad endorsements to prospective buyers?

So I’m figuring it out again with a “maybe kind close, I’m not sure that’s the right wire color” wiring diagram and a forum community that doesn’t want to hear about it anymore.  I went through it last year once and it may happen again next year, unless I just rip it out and put a nice Holley carb on it.  I just might.



*P.S.  I have a friend who thinks he is funny and gave us this since I call my boat a “Unicorn”.  My kids love it so I can’t get rid of it.  Well played sir… well played.

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